Iconic rock festival poster still making news in Palm Beach County

Royce Emley wasn’t a music fan in 1969, so creating a poster for a rock ’n’ roll festival featuring the likes of Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones and Jefferson Airplane took a little bit of work.

Mindful of the antiwar sentiment prevalent during the late ’60s, the Wales native, now 71, chose to incorporate symbols of peace into the poster, which he was asked to design in advance of the first — and only — Palm Beach International Music & Arts Festival.

The concert, touted as Palm Beach County’s own version of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, was scheduled for Nov. 28-30, 1969, at Palm Beach International Speedway on the Beeline Highway.

Promoter David Rupp lured a star-studded lineup to perform, flying many of them to the raceway by helicopter from their hotel on Singer Island.

“In that day all the kids were antiwar and anti-security,” said Emley, an artist and advertising executive who opened a studio in West Palm Beach shortly after moving to Florida from Canada in 1968. “It was the get-out-of-Vietnam era. So I designed the peace symbol and the dove. The grass really represented the field at the raceway.”

Emley was paid $225 for his work on the poster, which took him a week to design.

“I hand-lettered all the letters because in those days we didn’t have computers to do type,” he said. “It was all hand-done.”

He printed 2,500 copies at a small print shop in Lake Worth and began distributing them throughout the county, mostly at music and record stores.

His work drew the attention of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff William Heidtman, who objected to the depiction of grass in the poster, likening it to marijuana. He sent a lieutenant to investigate Emley.

The poster also upset the Daughters of the American Revolution, which expressed concern over a mistake Emley made in the design of the peace symbol.

Missing the bottom leg, it looked more like a German symbol than one meant to promote peace, they said. The organization also asked for Emley to be investigated.

“In my sketching I had drawn what I thought was the body, but actually it was the bottom of the stroke of the peace symbol,” said Emley, who lives in Tequesta. “I had left it out.”

Emley was not able to correct the mistake before the poster went to print, but he has done so in copies he’s made over the years.

Today, the original poster is worth about $4,000, Emley said. A handful still exist, though Emley does not have one, having sold his original to a collector in California about 10 years ago.

He makes and sells copies for anyone who asks, and often runs into people who enjoy sharing their festival experiences.

“I get contacted all the time for copies,” he said. “I’ve never done any advertising on it. It’s been strictly word of mouth. I’ll walk into a restaurant where they’ve seen it, and they’ll tell me customers ask about it.”

The Palm Beach International Music & Arts Festival drew 40,000 fans to the 149-acre Palm Beach International Speedway, now called Palm Beach International Raceway. The site was turned into a soggy, sloppy mess by days of rain.

Emley chose not to attend the festival, which was beset by a host of problems including chilling rain, food shortages, a lack of portable toilets and numerous drug arrests.

There also were rumors that Heidtman, who died in 2007 at age 91, planted alligators in canals and red ants in the fields.

“There was enough in the newspaper and enough on the radio that you could virtually track everything that was going on out there,” Emley said. “They made such a hullabaloo about the mud and the rain and the traffic that the desire to go out there was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’”

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